Major League Soccer kicked off the 2018 College Combine on Saturday with four teams of college prospects (along with a few international talents) taking the field at Orlando City Stadium under the watchful eyes of clubs from around the league. Real Salt Lake had its own contingent overseeing the matches as the club makes final preparations for the 2018 MLS SuperDraft on Friday in Philadelphia.
Holding the tenth overall pick in the first round and 33rd overall pick in the second round, General Manager Craig Waibel and Head Coach Mike Petke were joined by Technical Director Dane Murphy, Head Scout Andy Williams and Real Monarchs Assistant General Manager Dan Egner in evaluating players at the Combine, although most of the evaluation process has already been completed and the Combine is mostly used to confirm or refute those evaluations.
“We’ve done our homework already. We’re not relying on three games to pick a player,” Petke said. “We want to see who handles the pressure well and who steps up their game.”
Already with a youthful roster that features 12 players aged 23 years old or younger – including 20-year-olds Danny Acosta, Justen Glad and Brooks Lennon who are at the U.S. National Team’s January camp in California – RSL has a reputation for playing its young talent. Two of those are recent Homegrown signings Aaron Herrera and Corey Baird, who provide something of a benchmark for any incoming draft picks to reach.
“For us, we’re leaning towards the best available. So we’re looking for something to jump out at us,” Petke said. “I think Craig and his staff did a phenomenal job this off-season with the signings that we’ve had. So we are very happy where our roster is. Having said that, we’re not afraid to play young players if they’re ready.”
After the first two matches were completed, the staff met to discuss player evaluations. With this week’s events leading up to the MLS SuperDraft, the overwhelming feeling as coaches and general managers emptied into the lobby of the league hotel was one of eagerness as the season is just around the corner. Since taking over the head coaching duties one month into the 2017 season, Petke’s anticipation of the preseason and further putting his mark on the team was palpable.
“I’m not only ready, I’m extremely excited,” he smiled. “Having an entire offseason with my staff to really start planning and get down to the specifics of what we want to accomplish in preseason and to lay out the foundation of how we want to play is very exciting to me and I’m very much looking forward to it.”
The Combine will continue in Orlando with matches on Monday and Wednesday before the SuperDraft on Friday. The matches are streamed live at MLSsoccer.com.